BOSTON — It was a victory party fit for the 1 percent. Over in Chicago, the Obama campaign had invited 10,000 to fill the floor of the McCormick Place convention center. But here in Boston, Mitt Romney favored a more genteel soiree for an exclusive crowd. Romney’s election-night event was in a ballroom at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center that could accommodate a few hundred. Most men wore jackets and ties; women donned dresses and heels.
Secret Service agents blocked reporters from mixing with the Romney supporters as they sipped cocktails and nibbled canapes. Outside the ballroom, waiters in black tie tended bar, and Jumbotrons showed the election results on Fox News.
Downstairs, Romney’s big donors assembled in private rooms for finer fare; guards admitted only those whose credentials said “National Finance Committee.” “We’re going to have a great celebration here tonight,” Romney adviser Ed Gillespie told the crowd as early results trickled in. But the election results, even filtered through the rose-colored lenses of Fox News, were not promising.
Michigan fell to Obama, and then so did Pennsylvania and Minnesota. Obama was holding his own in Florida and Virginia, and things were looking grim for Romney in Ohio. The ballroom was as quiet as a library as the audience listened to the Fox personalities on-screen.
“Romney would have to draw to an inside straight” at this point, pronounced Brit Hume, who predicted “an awful lot of recriminations.”
Some attendees headed to the coat check. “I have a son who has a test tomorrow,” one woman explained. “It literally hurts my soul,” one man said as he walked toward the exit. Others lamented their wasted labors (“We did so much for him”) and fretted about a second Obama term (“I don’t want him to feel like he has a (expletive) mandate”).
Romney had spent nearly two years, and hundreds of millions of dollars, trying to convince Americans that he wasn’t an out-of-touch millionaire unconcerned about the little people — that he was more than a caricature who liked to fire people, who didn’t care about the very poor or the 47 percent who pay no federal income tax, who has friends who own NASCAR teams. He very nearly achieved it: Polls showed him neck-and-neck with Obama in the campaign’s closing days. But his final day in the race showed why he couldn’t persuade enough working-class Americans that he spoke for them.
On the final flight of his campaign Tuesday afternoon, Romney ventured to the back of his plane for a chat with reporters and discovered that — horrors! — the poor wretches were seated in coach. “I thought you had bigger seats back here,” he told them.
Fortunately, this discovery did not distract the Republican nominee from making some salient points before rejoining aides at the front of the plane: his lack of regrets (“I’m very proud”), his delight at the crowds (“When you have 10,000 people cheering you, you get a real boost”), his confidence (“I just finished writing a victory speech”) and how he would reward himself in victory.
“Assuming I win, one of the benefits is … to get another Weimaraner,” he disclosed when asked about puppy rumors. So, one of his first gestures as president-elect would be to purchase a pricey hunting dog once bred by European royalty?
In that sense, Romney’s election-night celebration was a fitting coda to his presidential bid: It abandoned any pretense of being a campaign for the common man. On election night in 2000, George W. Bush hosted an outdoor rally for thousands in Austin.
In 2008, Barack Obama addressed a mass of humanity in Chicago’s Grant Park. Then there was Romney’s fete — for which reporters were charged $1,000 a seat. The very location set the candidate and his well-heeled supporters apart from the masses: The gleaming convention center, built with hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, is on a peninsula in the Boston harbor that was turned into an election-night fortress, with helicopters overhead, metal barricades and authorities searching vehicles.
Only a few gawkers crossed the bridge from downtown to stand outside. Massachusetts, the state Romney once led as governor, was among the first to be called for Obama.
But many other states followed. At 11:14 p.m., the thinning crowd heard Fox’s Bret Baier project that Obama had won Ohio. “That’s the presidency,” he said. From Obama headquarters in Chicago, Fox’s Ed Henry described “pandemonium.” And in the ballroom in Boston, the Romney supporters stood in silence.
Dana Milbank is a columnist for The Washington Post whose work appears Mondays and Fridays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.